Sep 17, 2007

The Workplace Microwave Debate

The smell of burnt popcorn wafting from the employee break room or cafeteria can be irritating or nauseating. But it turns out it can be even more serious: A Colorado man who ate microwave popcorn twice a day for ten years may have developed a serious lung condition from the fumes.

Employees set up on both sides of the "what can go in the microwave" issue--those staunchly in favor of an "anything goes" policy, and those vocal about limiting offensive odors. Should you get involved? Some employers post signs about what's appropriate (ours at Nolo reads, "If you are going to microwave odiferous food, please be considerate of your coworkers and our customers and use the back kitchen")--and with good reason, employers don't want bad smells to reach customers or irritate working employees.

But with the newest information about the health effects of popcorn fumes, you may have employees concerned about their health, too. If your company has an "anything goes" approach to the break room microwave, give concerned employees a fumes-free break spot of their own. And keep these smells out of work areas--for example, by not allowing employees to have personal microwaves in their workspaces, or requiring them to spend break time in designated areas. Workplace injury claims are expensive and time-consuming; if a few simple changes can help avoid these claims, it's worth a little employee grumbling.

Who knows? Maybe someday workplace microwave fumes will be regulated like smoking is today. In the meantime, do what you can to respect employees on both sides of the debate--and save your own popcorn for the movie theater.

Alayna Schroeder